I used to be a coffee fiend. My go-to was an iced grande almond milk latte from Starbucks to start, followed by an iced grande Starbucks cold brew, followed by whatever coffee I could find in our office (usually reheated in the microwave). I would drink three to four cups a day during the week and two per day on weekends when I was “relaxing.” My stomach was always in knots, I was always jittery, and I had trouble falling asleep at night. Plus, I was either bursting with energy or absolutely exhausted with little to no in between.
Caffeine was the culprit, but I knew I couldn’t quit cold turkey. Limiting my coffee intake felt akin to saying, “I’ll only have one potato chip.” Who the heck only eats just one when they say they will? Certainly not me. But I knew if I switched to decaf I would be sorely disappointed. Coffee is not just about the taste, it’s about the way you feel and the community you build when you go grab it with a friend or do a coffee run for the office. I wanted something that would give me a little kick, would taste great hot or iced, and would allow me to be a part of the “Let’s grab a cup of coffee” ritual that is so sacred to people ages 18 to 105.
That’s when I found matcha. I had known matcha previously, as that “green tea latte” drink I ordered from Starbucks with whole milk on a whim one time and hated. But that was in college. I am so much older now, and much more mature — I only drink almond and oat milk! Recently I decided I was ready to give matcha another try and probably be disgusted again. Only this time, I wasn’t.
Matcha cured my coffee dependency, aided my digestion, helped my skin, and got rid of my jitters. It let me engage in the ritual of “getting coffee” without the weird looks or sacrificing taste for something like a chai tea (blegh). Basically, it did practically everything except clean my house and pay off my student loans! Now I love matcha — aka Kourtney Kardashian’s favorite Starbucks order — and I can’t wait to give you my matcha recs and matcha facts and tell you all about the one drink that helped me quit coffee for good.
I love coffee. I love the smell of coffee. I love the taste. But I hated how it made me feel. It was like I had become one of those silly shirts that say, “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my java!” Plus, it made my tummy ache. I was drinking so much coffee I was worried I was burning a hole in my stomach lining. I was jittery, nervous, and snappy. But without my coffee, I was exhausted. It felt like there was no medium ground (ha ha). So, I knew I wanted to quit coffee, but I didn’t want to quit caffeine or the ritual of getting a hot or iced beverage with my friends. I also needed something to keep my energy up!
I worked at popular tea store David’s Tea in college, but back then they had only just introduced matcha as an option in their shop. People rarely tried it, and when they wanted it we had to whisk it with this little bamboo whisk and it was a whole to-do that I tried to avoid. I had sampled it one other time at Starbucks as a “green tea latte,” and I got it with whole milk — which was a big mistake. It was sugary and cold and clumpy and gross. Until recently I thought I hated matcha, but then a friend ordered one at a café here in Los Angeles; I tried a sip and realized it was good. It was very good. I found myself typing “Best Matcha LA” into my Yelp app and beginning my matcha journey. Soon I had curated a list of go-to matcha spots in LA that branched into matcha that I began ordering online.
Matcha is a type of green tea made by grinding tea leaves into a bright green powder. It is used in traditional Japanese tea ceremony centers as a meditative and spiritual practice. It is also a beverage consumed by the trendy set in LA, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, etc. It is best enjoyed when it is whisked in hot water, as this makes it foamy, but it can be enjoyed whisked with a spoon and the milk of your choice.
Luckily, we live in the age of the internet and tons of new matcha brands are popping up promising delicious matcha in a variety of flavors. The most basic matcha is going to taste a little grassy, like a green tea would. You can mix the powder with hot water for a concentrated taste, or you can add a milk (I recommend almond or oat) for a more velvety mouthfeel and a softer-tasting drink. Matcha brands have matcha powders that are infused with ginger, lemongrass, and even coconut. It’s good both hot and iced, although I am clearly more of an iced beverage kind of girl.
Matcha is made by grinding whole green tea leaves, then mixing the powder into water instead of steeping it; some claim this provides greater health benefits, though not many scientific studies have been done on matcha specifically. What is clear is that green tea delivers antioxidants, and the consumption of green tea as opposed to coffee is linked to positive outcomes like lower blood pressure and lower levels of LDL cholesterol. Matcha is caffeinated, but only about half as caffeinated as a cup of black coffee. Unlike coffee, it doesn’t cause a spike in your adrenaline, glucose and insulin levels, which means you won’t get jittery or crash — unless you consume something nuts like six cups of matcha a day.
On coffee, there is a moment where I feel fabulous. It’s right after that first sip. My brain mentally exhales before it gears up to go “AHHHHHHHHH!” And then I crash. Repeat that process, but also make my stomach hurt all the time. When I drink matcha, it’s much more of a slow burn effect. No, I don’t wake up right away, but I build energy over time so I only ever need a second cup to feel the full effects. I don’t get headaches or jittery, and my stomach is so chill. I don’t feel alert like I could hear a pin drop or see through walls like I did when I was drinking three cups of coffee a day, but I do feel present and able to get through all my tasks with energy. Quitting coffee has also helped clear my skin — apparently a common benefit of kicking your latte-addiction — so score one more point for feeling great on matcha.
Pure Leaf matcha is my favorite on-the-go matcha right now. They come in these adorable little sachets that you dump right into a mug, fill up with boiling water, and stir to displace (matcha never technically dissolves, by the way, it only displaces). The taste is light, grassy, green, and it pairs expertly with almond milk. Pure Leaf also does a ginger matcha that adds just a hint of zesty ginger flavor to your tea. I really like that one on days when I want something with a little pow! Plus, ginger is amazing for your digestive system. As someone who once worked at David’s Tea, I do have a fondness for their matcha, now that I don’t have to make it 15 times a day with a little whisk. David’s actually has several flavored matchas, including mint, peach, maple, honeydew, strawberry, vanilla, and blueberry. I enjoy their “Grand Cru” matcha, which is one of the highest grade matchas on the planet and tastes earthy and refreshing. I also really enjoy their vanilla matcha, which I love to make as a latte because it compliments any oat milk I add to it.
Popular mushroom blend-brand Four Sigmatic also has a matcha that I recommend, although it has a strong lemon-grass flavor that I have to be in the mood for to have. Because I am a full-matcha convert, Matchabar has a tin of ceremonial grade matcha that is just perfect. However, it is a little pricey.
It’s 2018, but matcha is just barely getting started as a “normalized” coffee shop beverage. Yes, Starbucks has it — but only one flavor. I think we will see tons of matcha specialty stores pop up well into 2019, and that more chains, including popular ones like Dunkin’ Donuts, will begin carrying the energizing green powder.
Do I miss coffee? Sometimes. The smell still makes my taste buds perk up. I think that for me, I was too dependent on coffee, and not feeling like I am on some sort of tight espresso-leash has been incredibly freeing. Plus, it’s opened up a whole world of matcha and cool matcha brands and flavors that I love trying and educating others on. Have I had coffee since quitting? I will be honest with you, reader, I have. There are moments that call for it, like when you’re catching a 4 a.m. flight to Europe and have to drive to the airport. But unlike before, I don’t crave it or go reaching for it whenever I want as I used to. Who can have just one potato chip? I guess I can.
Still not a matcha convert? You can grab a coffee — or probably a matcha — at the best coffee shop in every state.
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